Michael Perry, a father of two and the founder and CEO of Maple, an app that eases the stress of home planning and organization, has made it his mission to help advance gender equality at home and at work. In balancing work and family as a CEO, Michael is normalizing caregiving with workplace policies, such as equal paid parental leave, and at home with shared responsibility of housework.
The research shows the majority of caregiving duties continue to fall on the shoulders of women. The truth is that a lack of gender equality is not a woman’s problem or a man’s problem; this is everyone’s problem. This bias extends to the workplace, where men often struggle with the expectations of being the ideal, always-on worker, leading to guilt when taking paternity leave or attending their child’s game.
Changing Fatherhood Norms
In a recent episode of the Breaking the Bias podcast, Holly Corbett, VP of Content for Consciously Unbiased, has a candid conversation with Michael about his journey to fatherhood, the regrets he harbored as a leader at Shopify, and the importance of a company culture that supports parents. Michael shares the transformative experience of becoming a father, his realizations about balancing work and family, and his belief in the benefits of a parent-friendly work culture for all workers.
“The only actual currency that we have is family,” says Micheal. “Your net worth at the end of your life is determined by how many people you have around your bedside, not how much money you have in your bank account.”
Balancing Work and Family: Identifying Priorities and Parenting Out Loud
The pandemic-induced trend of the Great Resignation led to many employees quitting, causing people to re-evaluate their priorities. Parents, especially mothers, left the workplace at higher rates due to a lack of childcare options.
Michael became a father for the first time in 2020, the year the pandemic hit, and it radically shifted his priorities. “Holding my first son for that first time and feeling the air escape the room is probably the most significant thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “Like many, I spent my life trying to figure out, ‘What is my purpose here on Earth?’ I was chasing careers and chasing titles and chasing money and chasing—to some extent—the wrong set of priorities. Then I held my son and it became so clear that my only purpose was to take care of this child. Everything else was in support of that body of work.”
Like so many new parents, Michael struggled figuring out how to balance how he showed up at work and at home. “For me, it was just taking a step back and recognizing, from a teamwork perspective, there really should be no relationship more important than my wife. I shouldn’t be seeking forgiveness from her, because oftentimes I think what happens is that we put it on our life partner to give us a ‘get out of jail free’ pass for not showing up in the right way. I had a complete framework shift at some point about who I was going to prioritize and show up for, and tried to find better balance in that decision making.”
“For me, it was just taking a step back and recognizing, from a teamwork perspective, there really should be no relationship more important than my wife.”
Strengthening Equitable Partnership Through Communication
Michael asserts that communication is fundamental in any partnership, be it in business, marriage, or friendship. His approach to maintaining balance and promoting gender equality at home involves asking a simple yet effective question when one partner is feeling overwhelmed or requires more assistance, “Do you think we are doing well right now?”
Rather than approaching the conversation from a place of ‘you’ versus ‘me’ or of blame, saying ‘how are we doing?’ is a very different statement. Asking this helps partners to realign by opening up a door to a tough conversation without putting the other person on the defensive. It brings the focus back to your team rather than you as an individual.
“I am certain that more times than not, it is a woman in a heterosexual relationship who is feeling the fatigue, the burnout, the inequality and the lack of support and empathy,” says Michael. “But I think there’s two sides to every coin, which is men also need to be able to communicate that they need help, they’re struggling, they don’t know what to do, they need to step into their job a little bit better. Because unfortunately for most men, their fathers did not lead by a good example. So they’re just kind of going through the system of life of like, ‘Well this is how my dad did it,’ and using that as a really great alibi. The conversation really has to be, ‘We’re in this together, we’re a team and our team isn’t working very well right now.”
Shared Responsibility in Housework: Creating an Equitable Home Environment
Small shifts can have a big impact, and one small move men can make to advance gender equity in the home is to not automatically assume household tasks, such as cleaning toilets or packing lunches, are not assigned to them. “One of the biggest mistakes we made early on at Maple was when you added something that needed to be done for the house, it automatically assigned that work to you,” says Michael. “One of the things we changed is that anyone can add something to Maple and it assigns it to nobody. It’s something we have to get this done. It’s exposing the volume of work that has to take place and not any one person is responsible for it, but rather the team of people connected to that work are responsible for it.”
Ultimately, men who acknowledge that women continue to do more than half of the unpaid labor at home and then who step up to collaborate and more equitably divide the load can help move us closer to gender equality, one family at a time. “We want to help more people and more households get organized together,” says Michael. “It’s really hard to move things on your own, but together is a very powerful place to be.”
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